KIRBYVILLE, Texas (BP)–Two Southern Baptist pastors who have taken stands against racism during the past year say no dramatic results emerged, but they still see tangible signs of success.
“Jasper County’s atmosphere has changed,” said Charles Burchett, who spearheaded a resolution passed by the Sabine Valley Baptist Association to oppose the Christian Identity Movement and “Covenant Theology.”
The October 1999 resolution noted that east Texas is being used to enlist and train white supremacists, which has had “hideous and malicious” manifestations. The association’s area encompasses Jasper, the town where an African American man was dragged to his death from a pickup truck in 1998.
The pastor of First Baptist Church of Kirbyville, a few miles from Jasper, said the resolution has had an impact.
“If all we did was pass a resolution, the answer would be no,” he said. “But because it’s been backed up with lives, more than mine, the atmosphere has changed.”
He credits much of that to prayer. The association has sponsored two prayerwalks, with most participants coming from Jasper County. And, First Baptist members regularly pray for pastors and government leaders.
The most noticeable difference came to light this fall, said Burchett. A probation supervisor for two neighboring counties asked his sister — a member of First Baptist — what was different about Jasper.
All probationers there were showing up on time for their appointments and no racial problems were occurring, he told her. But officers didn’t know of anything different they were doing than those in the adjoining county.
“She said, ‘We have intercessors [from] churches in Jasper County, prayerwalking and praying for officials and political leaders, and God is answering our prayers,'” he recounted.
In southern Arkansas, a stand against a publisher of racist and paramilitary literature also has led to unified prayer — and church growth.
Dwain Miller, pastor of Second Baptist Church of El Dorado, said his church has added 125 new members since late last year. He estimated half are new converts to Christ.
The spiritual upswing followed the Baptist pastor’s early January sermon decrying the presence in El Dorado of Delta Press.
The televised message stirred up notice, including a front-page story in the only statewide newspaper. While much of the controversy has died down, the pastor said the most important thing to come out of the situation has been a Tuesday time of prayer when 15-20 pastors and laypersons gather at city hall to pray for El Dorado, its pastors and government leaders.
Another church that participates in the weekly prayer meeting also is seeing growth. At First Assembly of God, attendance has been rising since late August, when 600 people responded to altar calls at the church’s production of “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames.” Of those, 340 signed decision cards indicating they had accepted Christ as Savior.
“Spiritually, I feel like there’s an opportunity for a greater harvest here because we have come against the strongholds,” said First Assembly’s pastor, Ron Morris. “Fundamentally, I think people want the truth. People have been inundated with the world’s view and they respond to the truth.”
Delta Press markets paramilitary, survivalist and gun-oriented books, including “The Turner Diaries,” “Hit Man” and “The Death Dealers’ Manual.” Its website lists such material as “How to Build Military Grade Suppressers,” “The Survival Bible” and “Build Your Own AR-15.”
Miller especially objects to “The Turner Diaries,” a book that details a violent overthrow of the federal government by white supremacists and an accompanying race war.
According to an FBI report, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had a copy in his possession when he was arrested. The report noted that one of the killers in the Jasper, Texas, murder remarked, “We’re going to start the ‘Turner Diaries’ early.”
Second Baptist’s leader was alerted to Delta by the town’s police chief. He distributed copies of Delta’s catalog and asked several pastors to pray about the spiritual forces behind the business. In his January sermon, Miller read descriptions of some of the company’s books.
“He [the chief] told me we would be shocked at the volume of stuff that goes out of there,” Miller said. “The terrorism and racial hatred are all wrapped up together. Maybe 5-10 percent of their books are the terroristic type, but it’s wrong if one book promotes hatred of another race.
“Spiritually, my concern is we are an outlet for terroristic crime and hate. I believe we have a spiritual stronghold over our city. Unless it’s torn down, we have oppression over our city.”
Although the protest hasn’t had any noticeable impact on Delta’s business, the pastor said it is important for Christians nevertheless to stand against racism and hatred.
“We’re called to love everyone and protect life, from conception to the elderly,” Miller said. “Promotion of racial hatred is a disease that’s dividing and destroying, and [it] can be our downfall. It’s what Jesus Christ called us to do, to love our neighbor.”
In his area, Burchett said the church as a whole must face up to its responsibility for the crime that shocked the nation.
“I think racism is alive and well in east Texas because of the church,” he said. “Even though we wouldn’t commit murder, we still have things in our hearts that allow things to occur.”
The average Southern Baptist can oppose racism by quoting Scripture or objecting to racist comments or jokes, Burchett said.
However, a person must first stand up against it in his or her own heart, he said, and after that, it is important to speak out against racism in one’s family and church.
“If God sees faithfulness, he’ll give you a chance to stand publicly,” Burchett said. “Many Christians do it wrong. They go into a public arena without first developing it in their own family and church.”